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Opinion

Something is rotten in the state of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

08 Jul 2024 6 minute read
Musicians rehearsing at the Royal Welsh College. Photo via YouTube.

Lisa Parry

Something is rotten in the state of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

A higher education college that trains musicians and actors to listen and react in a timely fashion seems to be incapable of putting its own teaching into practice.

In May, the families of nearly 400 children received a sudden email to say the college was planning to axe its junior music and drama training.

This will soon make RWCMD the only conservatoire in the UK, and possibly in the world, without regular junior provision. Despite the juniors not being listed as a concern in their own accounts, RWCMD said a full department cut was necessary to immediately save 188k the following year.

Parents emailed concerns to simply receive a brief acknowledgement of receipt. The principal – whose salary is £6,000 per year higher than the total needed to save the entire junior department – refused to meet parents for weeks, finally conceding a meeting called at such short notice, many couldn’t attend.

She then ignored email requests regarding hybrid online provision. Meanwhile devastated students, some revising for their GCSEs and A-levels, launched a campaign.

Petition

A Senedd petition quickly gained 10,560 signatures and was recommended by the petitions committee for a debate. Then RWCMD released a statement saying a final decision would be announced the week of 19th July, effectively rendering any debate pointless as it would happen too late, cutting the Senedd out of the process and refusing to listen to the voice of the petition signees.

Nor has the College responded to an open letter begging them to pause the closure, even though it is signed by leading theatre practitioners, eminent musicians and even by the conductor of BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

As a playwright who holds the teaching at RWCMD in high regard, and as a parent with two children at Young RWCMD, I cannot help but wonder what on earth is going on?

RWCMD consistently says this is a higher education funding issue and it cannot continue to subsidise youth provision from its reserves – approximately fifty per cent of children receive some sort of bursary, in many cases making tuition affordable.

But here’s the rub – admirable though the RWCMD subsidy is, the College should have effectively moved the bursaries off its higher education books years ago.

To have not done so is simply poor financial planning and bad management. In England, The National Music and Dance Scheme offers government-funded means-tested bursaries of up to £3000 for around 40 children per junior conservatoire.

As we face closure, the number of conservatoires there is expanding. In Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire has accessed substantial government funds in the past and there is also a funded specialist music school.

Wales, the land of song, has none of this. Why has the senior leadership team never pressured for parity?

Welsh taxes

How have they let a situation arise where Welsh taxes are enabling English and Scottish children access provision that children here are about to be denied simply because they are Welsh?

The College’s line is that its focus must be on 18 plus provision; yet its own charitable objectives state its facilities should be used by the community.

Theirs is the only building like it – a professional theatre, concert hall, soundproofed practice rooms with Steinway pianos – in the whole of Wales.

Nor do its objectives state at what age this training to enter the professional should begin. No one starts playing at 18 and then is suddenly at the Proms. Training starts young.

The College has promised to provide some kind of replacement provision, but despite constant requests from Senedd members and parents, no clarity on this has been offered.

Its submission to the Senedd petition committee regarding this is full of buzz words that make no concrete sense. And I know from experience what happens with one-off drama workshops: you’re left with a room full of engaged kids that want more regular provision.

The National Music Service, whilst admirable, cannot provide the high-level training the musical children desperately need as tuition replacement. It is also at full capacity – there is simply nowhere left for these children to affordably go. And swapping weekly tuition for a few workshops throughout the year would be futile when it comes to progression.

Huge divide

Fundamentally, this consultation has exposed a huge divide between what the board and leadership appear to perceive RWCMD to be and what families, the community and professionals perceive it as.

For us, RWCMD is not simply another higher education institution. It shapes the future of the arts in this country and its future artists. England has several junior conservatoires, and should one shut, others could step in.

We don’t have that luxury. If provision here goes, the impact on our children, and on the Welsh-language too, will be deeply felt.

Welsh-language drama training

RWCMD provides the only conservatoire Welsh-language training in Wales and many music students are taught bilingually. Families travel many miles to attend, specifically to work in their first language.

Time is running out. Despite Vaughan Gething’s plea to pause this plan, there has been no indication from RWCMD that it will do so. There has been no mention of the fact that it required to think about the long-term impact of its decisions on young people under the Well-being of Future Generations Act either.

I am therefore making a very simple plea to the board: pressure this leadership team to do better. And a plea to the Senedd too: pressure the board and the leadership team.

We do not own Welsh institutions; we take care of them and then we hand them over. If nothing is done, rather than hearing the future of music and theatre on North Road at the weekend, we are likely to see wedding after wedding, with the bust of Richard Burton in the background and scores of piano-filled rooms with locked doors.

It’s not good enough. Put simply, Wales and our children deserve better.


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hdavies15
hdavies15
6 days ago

This suggests that the Principal is not fit for purpose. Perhaps the Board should consider disposing, without the usual parachute payments, and secure the services of a less dull, more imaginative leader who can create and execute a more ambitious service plan for the College.

Sharon Morgan
Sharon Morgan
6 days ago

Ardderchog Lisa!

David
David
5 days ago

My daughter is on a bursary. It had brought her out and helped her in day to day. She is in drama. It’s a wonderful place full of wonderful people.

Phantom Engineer Number Cloudy
Phantom Engineer Number Cloudy
5 days ago

“We do not own Welsh institutions; we take care of them and then we hand them over.” This is the crucial point which no one seems to care about any more. Too many of our arts institutions are now in the hands of people whose only priority is landing their next job at a bigger and better quango. They’re not bothered if they leave a wilderness behind them, provided it doesn’t become obvious until they’ve left. The same things are happening all over (and not only in Wales – see the current debacle at Winchester Cathedral). Unfortunately current political culture… Read more »

Daf
Daf
1 day ago

Spot on, this comment.

Daf
Daf
1 day ago

RWCMD can’t be allowed to get away with this. The facilities are top class, but mean nothing if they aren’t used for the purpose intended. Which is not simply to rake in hundreds of thousands from fee paying students. The statements issued by the college have been pure flim flam. One off ‘workshops’ in schools for whole classes are not the way to develop young musicians with talent, who want to learn and perform. This decision is a national embarrassment, and Welsh politicians need to step in.

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